Sec. of State forum focuses on accessibility, ease of voting

Allison Ribick

With the 2014 midterm elections right around the corner, voters are looking to have as much knowledge as possible about the candidates, their platforms and the offices they are campaigning for.

Last Wednesday, the Eberhard Center on Grand Valley State University’s Pew Campus hosted a candidate forum for the individuals running for Michigan’s Secretary of State. Out of the five candidates, Democrat Godfrey Dillard and Libertarian James Lewis were in attendance.

Sponsors included the Michigan Election Coalition, Engage Michigan, Common Cause Michigan and GVSU’s Student Senate.

Sharon Dolente, director of the Michigan Election Coalition, and Madelaine Cleghorn, Student Senate’s vice president for external relations were the event’s moderators.

The candidates were asked questions from the moderators and from the public in attendance. Topics ranged from the challenges of voting to the accessibility of the secretary of state’s offices.

In regard to the function of the branch offices, Lewis stated he wants to reduce the reasons for why the public needs to go to secretary of state’s offices, as that will increase efficiency.

“There are a lot of services that can just be done online, over the phone, through the mail or outside services,” Lewis said. “Even if not everybody has access to technology, if more people that do have the opportunity to not even go down (to the office), that would make services even quicker for people that do have to go.”

Dillard’s approach involves a large regional service center involving person to person services, 30 to 40 lines and managers to help direct people in a quicker manner.

“We have to move away from these mom and pop secretary of state offices located in strip malls,” Dillard said. “We have to improve the facilities and the training of the people at the secretary of state’s offices.”

Convenient voting and registration was a topic that both Dillard and Lewis agreed on. Receiving absentee ballots without disclosing a reason, same day registration, voting and early voting were all initiatives that were brought up.

“We are mired in the past of the idea that only we can vote on one day,” Dillard said. “We have a variety of these structural barriers that prevent people from voting and we wonder why we have such low participation rates. My candidacy, my platform, is going to attack that directly, ultimately with a ballot initiative if the legislature doesn’t follow suit.”

College students struggle with these voting barriers, such as being registered in home districts that are far away from where they attend college.

“Some students want to vote in the community where their school is, where some students feel ties back at home – they should be able to register in whatever community they feel a part of and where they want to vote,” Lewis said.

Other topics were discussed such as campaign finances, the secretary of state’s budget, the language used for proposals on ballots and voting rights.

“I came here to get more information about the candidates, and since it was so close to Grand Valley, it was convenient to come,” said Kelsey Harrington, a pre-law student at GVSU. “I’m 20 and I didn’t get to vote in the last election. This time I want to be more knowledgeable and informed.”

Republican Ruth Johnson is the incumbent for Michigan’s Secretary of State and is seeking re-election. Jason Gatties of the Natural Law Party and Robert Gale of the U.S. Taxpayers Party are the other candidates.

“I didn’t know a lot about the race for secretary of state since all the advertising focuses on the governor and senate races,” Harrington said. “This was beneficial for my voting decision.”

To see a video of the entire forum, visit

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